This site uses cookies to provide you with more responsive and personalized service and to collect certain information about your use of the site.  You can change your cookie settings through your browser.  If you continue without changing your settings, you agree to our use of cookies.  See our Privacy Policy for more information.

False Fasting


Fasting used to be done primarily for religious purposes. Today, most of those who voluntarily abstain from eating want to improve their health or to lose weight, with little thought given to fasting as a spiritual practice.

In Isaiah’s day, people practiced fasting in an attempt to get God’s attention and enlist His aid. They became frustrated when God seemed to ignore their efforts: “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’” (v. 3).

The Lord’s reply revealed the flaw. They were regular in their religious activity but superficial in their devotion. On the surface they appeared sincere. They sought God daily and even seemed eager to know about Him. But on closer inspection, their lives showed serious inconsistencies. Their religious practices were mixed with acts of selfishness, exploitation of others, and quarreling. Like a church member who thanks the pastor for the sermon on loving your neighbor and then gossips about a friend on the way out, their ordinary behavior proved that these spiritual practices were only a religious veneer.

The word for this kind of behavior is hypocrisy. The trouble with hypocrisy is that we have a sharper eye for it in others than we do for ourselves. We think others are hypocrites; we are merely inconsistent. The flaw in those Isaiah criticized was twofold. First, they thought they could use their acts of devotion as leverage to get God to do what they wanted. Second, their practice of spirituality was compartmentalized. Jesus echoed Isaiah’s criticism when He rebuked the religious leaders of His day for attending to minor details while ignoring the heart of holy living (Matt. 23:23).

Apply the Word

Hypocrisy is difficult to diagnose for ourselves. Is there a trusted friend who can tell you about your own inconsistencies? Ask them to identify something that they think is most dangerous to you. Their assessment will be hard to hear but can help you grow spiritually and align your heart more with Christ.

BY Dr. John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

Dr. John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

Browse Devotions by Date